You’re Gonna Miss It All
On You’re Gonna Miss It All, Modern Baseball devote a lot of their attention span to sounding like they have no attention span at all. This is to say that Modern Baseball’s newest album is restlessly creative, perpetually in motion, and bravely off-kilter, but never less than captivating. I’ve written recently about the premium contemporary emo has put on the goofball irreverence of Cap’n Jazz, but less often do we see bands reaching for more studiously left-field registers — less bemused scenic routes, like the weirder stuff on Analphabetapolothology that foreshadowed Joan of Arc. It’s easy to forget oddities like Saves The Day’s “Monkey,” or a whole bunch of Piebald’s dadaist pop — mostly because it was sort of irreconcilable and more than a little tricky to categorize. Records like Venetian Blinds and In Reverie were orphans, even if they were also pretty interesting. We called them “emo” maybe at least in part because the genre always had a soft spot for quirks (listened to “Make Me A Chevy” lately?). But it’s easy to forget those modes while reinvesting in a genre synonymous with a very specific kind of earnestness. It’s the difference between slacker mannerisms and purposeful complexity, and we’ve mainly been seeing the former.
So it is ultimately noteworthy to see Modern Baseball, a band whose earlier stuff seemed basically satisfied with workmanlike, if quirky, indie pop, allowing themselves both a looser grip on the reins and a tighter attention on new ideas. There’s eccentricity in the ultra-expressive vocals, full of cartoon-y exaggeration, and in arrangements that can’t sit still for want of a new part, a different tempo, a change of heart. You get a sense of that jumpiness in “Fine, Great” the album’s ultra-melodic opener, an under-three-minute snapshot that begins with acoustic wryness and ends with wide-armed fuzz pop. Again, In Reverie comes to mind, most of all in the song’s interesting upper-register grace notes (you hear bits of seventh notes and counter-harmonies where power chords might be) and spry rhythmic flares. The song is essentially chamber pop compressed back into punk by dint of its energy and forward-motion. It’s a willingness to play around, to forget there’s a pretty visible genre rulebook, that distinguishes You’re Gonna Miss It All. Like the best “experiment” records, the album’s workshopped concepts and challenging structures never sacrifice a sense of fun.
That so much of the record is both exploratory and melody-rich, fragmentary and catchy, says a lot about the Modern Baseball’s sense of balance. Songs bust into pieces, apparent choruses never come back around, verses interrupt themselves. “Broken Cash Machine” double-times through crisp emo and riff-first power pop, showing off a streak for compact storylines that makes the album feel like strung together narratives, an unexpected feat for a record that’s almost constantly pivoting. It’s a short-story aesthetic that calls to mind The Weakerthans, a link underlined by singer Brendan Lukens, whose nasal lilt is a dead ringer for John K. Samson (and, a bit more oddly, Yoni Wolf of Why?), as are his narratives of ironic frustration and embarrassed self-consciousness. That affinity stands out most on “Rock Bottom,” another quick dispatch of melody and youthful abandon that, like the desperate pleasures it catalogues, is over before you know it. Taken as a whole, the LP seems restless, the result of too many good ideas. Modern Baseball are young, but this, their first serious achievement, plays like a band under the gun, shoving a double LP into half the space. When Sufjan Stevens tried this kind of pieced together, whirlwind drama (albeit on a bigger scale), he was a decade into his career with about 48 states in need of rock operas. Modern Baseball, by contrast, are kids.
Like northeastern weather, if you don’t like a song’s first thirty seconds, just wait. “Notes” begins too rote for a band so clever, too literal in its nervy punk folk, but then the tune stretches out like a night sky. About halfway through “Notes” blooms into gorgeous post-rock by way of alt-country, echoing slide guitar and ghostly harmonies lacing over the arpeggios of middle West emo. Lukens begins a litany of metaphors for an unspecified “she” (“she was my trophy case of slip-ups”) before promising a new start for a new confidant: “But I’ll start fresh with you, extracting the rusted attachments.” That wordiness, that attempt to make something trite sound like something true serves as synecdoche for the record in general – a band that’s too smart to be satisfied, always searching out new ways of saying a thing, sometimes within the same song, sometimes within the same verse. The only drawback to this hyperactive aesthetic, to never settling, is that it’s conspicuous whenever the band stays in any mode for too long. “Tommy Bowers” is lovely, and haunting, impressionist in its self-deprecation, but it’s obvious that Modern Baseball sees its solidity as an interlude; which it is. Similarly, “Going To Be Now” has a bright way with harmony and mood, but its spiked country rustle feels like water being treaded where everywhere else the band is splashing around.
But taken as a whole, You’re Gonna Miss It All is a brainy and captivating rush of changing thoughts. “Apartment” begins with waltzing ennui, but cuts itself off with near-absurd abruptness – again, this is a record that cannot stand still – breaking into a pop-punk gallop. But Lukens lets his melody return to the song’s introductory melancholy, lines like “I’ll walk home, with my eyes low, dreaming of conversations we’ll have tomorrow” stretching out like passing yards over all of that charging rhythm. The song ends with a short turn back into that waltz, now pounded flat as the story drops away into the kind of charming befuddlement that constitutes Lukens’ chief mode: “I was wondering if maybe you wanted to hang out tonight; we could make dinner or something….” It’s hard to convey how conversational the band makes all of this seem, as if they were following along with a bouncing ball, hopping up and down over the dialogue of first dates and tired complaints. When the words break, or when the folks in question lose confidence or the thread, the songs are spry enough to follow those lapses in lock step. It’s a fascinating literalization of the premium emo puts on interpersonal connection and its difficulties, especially when we’re young and dumb. In that way You’re Gonna Miss It All is spiritual to kin to records like Pinkerton or Dear You (“Charlie Black” is especially similar to these records in its disheveled sing-song frowning) – albums that find anxiety in the simple act of entering a room, and which find the time to tell you all about it while still standing on the cusp. The charm of this LP is that you’re never sure which way Modern Baseball is going to head – out the backdoor, through the living room, or down some hall. Bands have a way of blocking their own shot when ideas start to bubble over, but You’re Gonna Miss It All takes that confusion as its theme. It’s the sound of young people who have it figured out just enough to realize they’ll never figure it out all the way.